A Flat Note

I adjust my spaghetti straps and glance at the mini bar inside room 206. Colored, skinny bottles like manicured fingers. From the window, I glance at the afternoon sun dulled to gory clouds with rain on their backs, a lemon-grey canvas over columns of speeding cars.

David slides his hands across my waist interlacing his fingers with his wedding ring on top. “You’ve led the stormy weather here,” he smirks. His old hat is an odd touch to his blue shirt and black jeans. But the grin is center stage. This is the first time I am with him and he looks like a man with lively blue eyes, who works from eight to five – someone who can afford a bit of nonsense. We are in a hotel right across the highway, next to the airport. Thunderstorms weren’t in the forecast but I can smell them, heading our way.

Dim daylight. Faded darkness. I remember Dolly, my friend, casually mentioning how she fucked a middle-aged banker, Tom for a couple of twenties. Tom even cuddled her afterwards. A few nights he even took her out and opened the door for her. After half-a-dozen heartbreaks and the itch to have bigger things which my waitressing job cannot scratch, I thought it might be nice to have what Dolly had. However, she made me promise not to make a habit of sleeping with strange men. “Once that indifferent girl settles beneath your skin, you are unstoppable,” she’d said.

“How are you,” David asks with a prepped tone and takes his hat off. I can feel the glare of his stare. It says: I am hungry and bored. I ache and yearn to be noticed. He grins and I see a dimple in his left cheek, his ears turning red. It seems as if he is about to say something. Outside, the clouds are gathering to spill rain. The lines of buildings and bridges are blurred. Inside, the light is bright and reflecting off our bodies, creating an awkward fizz.

“What’s this?” I pick up a small box placed near the TV, next to the roll of USA Today. The label on the box says, Milk Chocolate Messenger Man.

“Let’s see.” He lifts his eyebrows, extending his forehead to the receding hairline as if he is checking a balance sheet. His ears, erect, move away from his face, curling a little to pick up the crackling sound of cellophane.

“It’s milk chocolate with almonds, baby.” He holds it out. His voice has a light, gravelly undertone. Seedy and affectionate at once.

I pop a brown, leathery square into my mouth and sit on the edge of the bed sweeping the inside of my cheek with my tongue. He draws the tan-colored curtains and loosens the belt under his paunch. His naked profile — an interesting combination of large shoulders and fairly small hips, moves towards me. His skin is coarse, his chin strong and his lips pursed tight. I think of his wife, possibly average looking, wearing sweat pants and loose T-shirt standing in a grocery aisle picking up pasta. Or at home reading a magazine with fuzzy instructions on interior decoration. He pulls up the comforter, releasing a fine layer of dust between us. An airplane drones above our heads sucking a hole of air and I imagine all the passengers and the crew looking at us. There is a familiar face in between them. The face of my mother.

He cups my breasts pulling down my tank top, and places his wide thumbs pressing my dark, upright nipples. Then he kisses me as he unbuttons my shorts. I notice the tense muscles in his shoulders extending to his neck. There is no sound except that of the air conditioner wafting along our bodies. He moves fast inside me supporting my legs over his shoulders, groaning with quick satisfaction.

“You’re sexy, Nora,” he manages to say in between his panting and hurried movements. And I realize that he has not fucked many women. When he comes, he lets out a small sigh and looks down as if ashamed of himself. Then he withdraws slowly and grins. I wonder if he will say something now.

He adjusts the pillows in L-shape and lies down next to me. His hand settles over his belly and his curled body hair move every time he exhales and says, “Wow that was just great.” At that instant, all I want to do is shake his shoulders and say, “That was just sex, David. We had sex. Move on. Move on.” To distract myself, I count in my head. One, two, three...

Several pairs of footsteps thump on the carpet outside past our door. Perhaps, girls in tight and bright clothes, accompanying balding, married men while the planet scurries indifferently. I blink my eyes several times, as people do when they sense a change in light.

“So you go to college or something..?” He looks at me, narrowing his eyes.

“Yeah, Fine Arts.” I look at my chipped toenail.

He turns towards me with a nameless urgency.

“This semester is about Renaissance music.” I pull the covers up to my chin.

“Who is your favorite, kid,” he asks, moving closer. “Mozart, Beethoven?”


“Bach, eh? He was my favorite too, the best organist. Even Mozart and Beethoven recognized his work, though it was before their time and very different.” He sits up startled by his excitement.

“What did you say you do?” I try to get rid of the image of his thrusting, slim butt between my legs.

“Accounting.” He gives a defeated look. “But I have always loved classical music… Anyway, you …”

His cell vibrates. “Yes honey, I should be home by dinnertime, how are the boys….?” His voice drifts into a careful whisper as he closes the bathroom door.

I hear the ticking clock, the slow thuds behind the walls as if something is moving. I slide my gaze across the room. Outside, the rain comes down pushing through open, flat land and single storied rooftops of deserted offices smashing against the closed window. Concentric circles of heat and wind bring a sick sensation in my stomach. It’s a profoundly familiar, criminal feeling. I start counting and place my hands over my breasts, massaging and collecting them. Feels like they’d hurt if I do not hold them.

“Love you,” he says into his phone as he appears.

I lay there, feeling my breath rise through my limp body, subtly reminding me what I need to do next.

“So, do you play any instrument?”


“That mouth, I should have guessed.” He pauses to register my expression. I get up.

“I’ll take a nap before heading out. Feel free to stick around or whatever.” He pulls out a moderate stack of twenties from his wallet.

“I’d like to shower before I go, if it’s alright with you.”  I gather my clothes and take the money.

He nods and gives me a full look sliding his gaze over the curve of my hip and quickly recovering from it. “Trumpet, huh?” He keeps looking at my lips as if he is reconstructing and rearranging them.

I smile with slight impatience.

“In three weeks?”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

“Umm,” he pauses as he looks down, pushing his big toe into the carpet as if he is about to make a strange declaration. “You don’t have to do this. I mean, I like it. I like it very much. But I’d also like to talk to you. About music. Maybe we can talk more next time.” His lips tremble into a delicate silence as he moves his hands over his head making sure I understood what he just said.

“Yeah,” I say, my voice wrinkled with uncertainty as I open and close the bathroom door. I hear an airplane coming in to land. I imagine the passengers looking outside the window, relieved to see the ground so close after hours of flying. I also assume what might happen after three weeks – fucking on the windowsill and on the bed and up against the wall. Making a lot of noise, deaf to the sound of take offs and landings, the thumping of steps outside – growing to detachment. Or talking about music – oscillating between octaves of our likes and dislikes, and leaving the room with a flat note in our voice. I look at my reflection. She is slowly settling under my skin like molten chocolate in a mold.

“Talking to you about music? What a load of shit,” she says.

I try to break the spell but she freezes a part of me. I can hear David snoring lightly. Holding tight, the roll of twenties in my fist, I feel like crying. From terror or guilt, or both. I think of my mother cooking dinner. I imagine walking in trying not to meet her eyes as she gives me a good natured hug. Then she sips her beer and says, “Here’s to a long day.” And I agree. We eat dinner, kiss each other goodnight and fall asleep, waiting for the next day to be better than today. Still searching and wanting. Hoping to wake up with an answer but losing it in the first hour of the day while looking for that one pair of socks that does not have holes yet.

Outside, the rain falls like soft feathers, with a wet hiss. I can smell another thunderstorm. The girl in the mirror is staring at me, making me feel like an outsider in my body. I exhale and close my eyes. Thoughts rush like blood gushing through every artery. Rental for the trumpet, a pair of snow boots, leather gloves? Maybe repair Mom’s car. Or just save and watch it grow as if it were a living thing.

When I open my eyes, she‘s gone but a layer of skin is crawling inside me, clotting my senses. I move my fingers on the neck and feel the flutter of my pulse. One, two, three


Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two teenage kids. Her work has been or will be published in Isthmus, Redactions, Chiron Review, SmokeLong Quarterly and several others. She moved from India to the United States two decades ago and is an Electrical Engineer by profession.

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